How to Get Your Church’s Mission Off Life Support

Rob Wegner and Jack Magruder of Granger Community Church in Granger, Ind., on shifting ministry partnerships from "transactional" to "transformative."

Excerpted from “Missional Moves: 15 Tectonic Shifts That Transform Churches, Communities and the World” (Zondervan)

From Transactional to Transformational Partnerships

During our first fifteen years at Granger, we focused our energy on reaching our Jerusalem: our unreached friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. And we have no regrets on that. We firmly believe that the light that shines the farthest is the light that shines the brightest at home. If you skip reaching your Jerusalem on your way to reach the ends of the earth, something is out of order.

During that season, however, our local and global expressions of mission were disjointed. Though we were effectively evangelizing the people we knew, our mission efforts didn’t reflect our calling and identity as a church—our DNA. Everything we did was done in “support mode.” The men of the church supported an international housing organization and made periodic trips to build houses. The women supported a shelter for unwed mothers. The youth had their own projects. These were all good things. And this is what many churches do, find a good organization and support them. The problem with support mode is that it doesn’t lead to long-term growth. It’s an approach that offers a form of life support, sustaining a patient’s life while they remain critically ill or injured. Picture someone lying in a hospital bed with feeding tubes, bloodlines, and a respirator. Remaining in support mode is not really a good place to be, is it? It’s the spiritual equivalent of providing feeding tubes to chosen organizations, giving them a slow trickle of volunteers and money to keep things running.

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In the midst of our growth in evangelistic ministry, we heard the Spirit’s voice inviting us to open our hearts even wider. We sensed that the time had come for us to bring the same intentionality and ownership to our expression of mission in our Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. We were determined to get off the life-support approach to our mission as a local church. We were convinced that God’s plan was for us to be fully alive in every area of influence he was providing for us: locally, regionally, domestically, and internationally. As we set out, we found that yet another missional move was needed. We quickly found that our support-mode approach to mission was rooted in an entrenched partnership model that was strangling our freedom to grow and respond as a local church. We realized that the time had come for us to make yet another shift, from transactional partnerships to transformative ones.

Transactional Partnerships

Here’s what we discovered very quickly: the work of mission “out there” is largely owned and operated by organizations. While there are a small but growing number of pioneering organizations exploring more collaborative ways to partner with the local church, most organizations still want to make a transaction with the church, one built primarily around financial support. The local church is seen as a big wallet, and the goal of the relationship is to open that wallet to fund the organization’s goals in mission. The process of a local church developing a partnership usually goes something like this:

Step 1: The church forms a missions board.

Usually, this is a group of passionate volunteers or staff. The primary function of the team is the distribution of funding to organizations and missionaries. This typically includes the organization of volunteer opportunities and short-term trips.

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Step 2: The missions board selects an organization.

The local church looks for an organization to hire. Personal passions and previous relationships, and not the DNA of the local church, drive the focus.

Step 3: The church hires the organization.

The local church hires a partner organization (or several organizations) to carry out the work of mission, “outsourcing” the work of mission to the organization. The local church adopts and supports the mission of the agency or organization.